Forensic Criminal Investigation is a specialty vocation in law enforcement. Being a forensic criminal investigator is not as glamorous as television crime shows make it out to be, but the work is challenging and rewarding.
Understanding the Job
The goal is to provide the final piece of the puzzle and bring some peace of mind to loved ones of the unfortunate victims. As a forensic criminal investigator, you will work primarily in the field. If you want to work in the laboratory, you need to study forensic science with a focus on chemistry.
What to Expect
Being a criminal investigator is very similar to being a detective. The main goal is to collect and secure evidence at the scene. Traditionally, police officers or other law enforcement officials have been involved with collecting evidence and securing the scene.
Today, the trend has shifted towards using people specifically trained to look for evidence. A forensic criminal investigator still works very closely with law enforcement officials, especially when it comes to securing the scene to avoid contamination from outside sources such as curious onlookers. Basic duties of a forensic criminal investigator include:
- Securing a Crime Science
- Assessing and Processing a Crime Scene
- Gathering and Transferring Evidence
- Preparing Detailed Crime Reports
- Managing Equipment
- Viewing Autopsies
- Attending Conferences or Press Briefings
- Testifying in Court
- Identifying Potential Evidence
- Protecting and Properly Collecting Evidence
- Photographing all Evidence
- Photographing and Documenting a Crime Scene
Your ultimate goal is to document everything to the best of your ability. The evidence collected will be used to piece together the events that resulted in the crime scene. In other words, you are trying to capture and preserve the crime scene. A forensic criminal investigator needs to pay attention to every detail.
Nothing is too insignificant. A certain dedication is required, along with a lot of time. Processing a crime scene takes anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the scope and nature of the crime scene. Procedures need to be strictly followed when collecting evidence. One mistake could easily destroy a vital piece of evidence.
Biology and chemistry courses in high school helps to prepare you for an eventual career as a forensic criminal investigator. You will need a high school diploma or GED to get started with the process of pursuing this line of work as a full time career.
A good place to start is to get an internship with a local police department or crime lab to get an idea of what is involved with assessing and processing a crime scene. Becoming a forensic criminal investigator requires a Criminal Justice or a Physical Science degree. Some forensic criminal investigator positions require an individual to have police officer status or higher education with a strong background in science.
The average education to become a forensic criminal investigator will involve 52 major credit hours of study and 128 total credit hours to earn a bachelor of arts forensic criminal investigation degree. Criminal justice and forensic courses that are normally required to obtain this degree include:
- Basic Inorganic Chemistry
- Forensic Chemistry
- Applied Forensic Techniques
- Forensic Investigation
- Elements of Criminal Law
- Digital Photography
- Criminal Procedures (Rules of how to Process Evidence)
As a forensic criminal investigator, your work conditions will vary greatly from one assignment to the next. Generally, your first goal will be to secure the scene. The scene may include everything from a well-manicured yard to a wrecked car scattered along a dark highway.
You will be dealing with the elements and racing against them, in some cases, to protect evidence. Your first goal at any crime scene is going to be collect, preserve and protect as much evidence as possible.
You are not trying to play detective at that point. It may seem like cliche by now, but you really do want to let the evidence speak for itself. At a crime scene, you will likely have the assistance of law enforcement to help with securing the scene.
Realize that you are not going to have “typical” work conditions. You will have the tools you need to collect evidence, but the effort to collect evidence will differ from one crime scene to another.
The demand for forensic criminal investigators has more than doubled over the last decade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics for this position. Forensic criminal investigator jobs are expected to increase by as much as 20 percent over the next few years alone, a much faster growth rate than typical crime/law enforcement positions.
The average hourly wage for a position fitting the forensic criminal investigator job description is $26.47 with the annual wage of $55,070. Some questions asked during the job interview process for a forensics-related position, according to a sample interview questionnaire, include:
1. Why are you interested in this line of work? Take some time to think about your answer to questions like this. It may not seem very important, but questions like this tend to carry a lot of weight in the final decision process.
2. What can you do for us? Bring samples of work you have done in class with you. This may include fingerprint samples or test crime scene photos you have taken. This is the part where you show why you would be a valuable asset.
3. Be prepared to close with a “wow” factor. An interview usually ends with “Do you have any questions for us?” or “Is there anything you would like to add?” Avoid the temptation to simply answer with “No.” This is the part where you seal the deal. Do not be afraid to ask questions and explain in greater detail why you want the job of a forensic criminal investigator.
Choosing to become a forensic criminal investigator requires commitment and dedication. After all, a forensic criminal investigator has an important job: to give victims a voice through the evidence collected and processed at a crime scene.